I knew I was going to be on my own navigating the new parenting world with a dog already in the house when more than once I came across the following advice: reduce the attention you give your dog by at least fifty percent. The logic: I would have less time to devote to my dog, so she should get used to it early. Say what? Stop petting the dog? Less toys for the dog? No more lavishing love on this beloved beast I *chose* to bring into my home, the one I committed to for life? No can do, parenting experts!
Still, when my son Wren came along, I needed to make changes. I've got a 60-pound Pit Bull-type dog in the house with me, and Stella can be something of a tornado when she gets excited. She skids and scrambles around on the wood floors, wedges herself between the object of my attention and me and seeks out high fives precisely at toddler-eye level when things are going her way. Here are a few of the things I've learned. It's not to say I've applied these strategies flawlessly, but it's the structure of these boundaries that have kept our household—and ALL the members in it—happy and secure.
1. Dogs + Babies Alone = No
We trust Stella. She's a good girl and can be left on the couch alone with a plate of food without eating it. That is to say, she's got great impulse control. But for both the baby's safety and for hers, we simply never leave them in the room alone together. Too much could go wrong—a yanked dog ear, a stomped baby hand, a dog tail to the eyeball.
2. Toy Management
This is a tricky one. As I wrote in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of The Bark, we did tons of training in advance to help Stella recognize her toys from Wren's. She's got this down now, and leaves his well enough alone. Wren has been a whole different issue. He makes a beeline straight for Stella when she's playing wth things, and likewise when she is eating. Despite Stella's tolerance of this (not all dogs are so gracious, nor should they be expected to be), I still protect her from Wren's prying hands by redirecting him with his own toys. He doesn't always appreciate this—so if he can't be redirected, I put a baby gate between them so Stella can play or eat in peace.
3. Breathing Room
That brings me to the next point. Sometimes, both baby and dog need space away from the constant attention of the other. This applies especially to old dogs or those with sore spots. Wren has reached a stage now where he finds Stella absolutely fascinating. He crawls behind her like the wake behind a boat. And while I find it charming, Stella sometimes may just want to sail around on her own. And that's fair enough. Baby gates, the Pack 'n Play or crib—all these serve as fine barriers between your beasties.
What are your trade secrets to happy cohabitation? Was your dog jealous when the kid(s) came along? I'd love to hear about your experiences.
Photograph by Kira Stackhouse